Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 6)

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort Agave Suite: A Review

Pros: Great resort pool and other activities, reasonable breakfast, spacious room, good for families

Cons: Facilities a bit tired

After a day in Tucson (SEE: Should you visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?, AND: Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!) and a morning spent hiking in Saguaro National Park,  our two older kids and I headed to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort for a fun afternoon in the pool.

I booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort as an award night. Prices over our dates weren’t bad, but I still didn’t want to shell out the cash. Our single night cost 41,000 Honors points. The added benefit of booking an award stay is that we didn’t have to pay the resort fee. If I’d moved the slider even a little bit to change our booking to a mix of cash and points, or paid cash for the night, the entire resort fee would be due.

So, if you’re ever looking at an extended Hilton resort stay, points are absolutely the way to go. I despise resort fees. If you are unfamiliar with them, check out this site.

Arriving at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

We drove up to the Phoenix area after spending two nights in Tucson enjoying Colossal Cave and the Pima Air and Space Museum. The morning was spent at Saguaro National Park, and we finally rolled into Phoenix about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The entrance to the resort is fairly easy to find. We drove up to the main lobby and checked in. The agent at the front desk was cheerful and helpful, giving us an orientation of the property as it was our first time here.

The property is big enough, however, that you’ll probably need to drive around to get closer to your room. We were in the North Pointe building at the very end of the top floor.

The front desk gave us a modest upgrade to a slightly nicer suite. Standard suites are located in the south building, while the Agave Suites are located in the north building. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between them from what I read, but the Agave Suites have been more recently remodeled.

Taking a look at our Agave Suite

The suite had a sufficient amount of space and comfort that I’d be willing to come back here with the whole family. With a living area, we could actually make it work for 5, if the hotel would allow that.

 

The front area includes the desk, couches, and a TV. It’s a great little living space.

There isn’t a full kitchen, but the fridge and counter space is enough to easily prepare food and cook if you bring a hot plate.

There isn’t quite enough seating for five, but it’s better than a hotel room that has a single desk chair or armchair. You can use the desk chair in addition to the living room seating.

The Agave Suite is definitely a true suite in that you can close the door between the living area and the bedroom. The bathroom is situated in the middle between the living and bedroom areas. One side has the toilet while the other holds the shower. The design is great as one person won’t tie up the bathroom for everyone.

Beyond the tiny hall and bathroom is the bedroom area. Ours had two queens, which with the sofa in the other room would be sufficient for our family of five.

But since there were only three of us this time, the Agave Suite was extra spacious.

There is a small balcony at the back with a lovely view of the parking lot. Not. At least the hills in the distance are pretty cool.

Overall, I was super pleased with the our room at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The River Ranch

The primary reason I’d booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was…the resort part. Which in its case is called the River Ranch.

The April weather in Phoenix was lovely, and the pools were wonderfully refreshing. The kids spent literally hours in the water. I swam for a while and then laid back and took in some sun.

The main pool stretches around a middle landscaped hill that contains the top of the waterslide.

At one end of the pool there is an artificial waterfall feature. You can swim right up underneath them, and there are even benches to sit behind the screen of water. This was our favorite area of the pool.

There were not very many people present the day we were there. I cannot imagine what the place would be like if most of the lounge chairs were filled. It would be a zoo. Luckily, we’d picked a quiet day to stay at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The kids also enjoyed the lazy river. You can ride a full circuit around the mini-golf course on a tube.

The kids and I also played one round of mini-golf. Our first experience with this was in Costa Rica when we stayed at the Hotel Punta Leona at the Pacific in Costa Rica (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona review – stellar price for an all-inclusive). That time, everything was crazy. There was no taking turns; it was everyone just hitting the golf ball willy-nilly. This time we had a much more controlled game.

One of the kids favorite parts of the resort was the water slide. It isn’t very big, but unlike our stay at the Disneyland Hotel (SEE: Disneyland Hotel Frontier Tower adjoining deluxe view rooms review), there really wasn’t ever a line.

They did it over and over and over again.

I could have taken dozens of photos.

The River Ranch at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was entirely worth booking a resort hotel. We really don’t have much experience with resorts of any type, as they’ve never been high on my list of places to visit. My wife and I aren’t the types (well…more so me) to just head to a beach and park it for several days. Travel to me means walking through nature, experiencing culture, and taking in a new place. Resorts don’t fit the bill.

But with kids things are a bit different. They just want to have fun sometimes, and I’m trying to find a balance between “fun” activities and seeing the sights. So a resort stay now and then might become a bit more common.

Breakfast at Rico’s American Grill

One of the benefits of holding Hilton Gold status was being able to enjoy a free hot breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants, Rico’s American Grill, during our stay.

Instead of giving free breakfast to all of us as a Hilton Honors Gold benefit, the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort provides vouchers at the front desk. These are enough to cover their continental breakfast option ($10), or the buffet for the kids. If I recall correctly, the hotel did give us three vouchers, even though the they only have to extend the benefit to one guest.

I’ve found on multiple occasions now that Hilton is accommodating in that way when I’m traveling with two kids (SEE: DoubleTree Luxembourg Review). The kids got to pick from all of the items, while I had to make do with pastries and coffee.

But I really didn’t mind. There was a reasonable enough variety at Rico’s.

Overall, breakfast was good. It didn’t wow us in any way, but there were plenty of options at the buffet and the atmosphere was both casual and nice. Solid hotel breakfast, especially since it was free. Not sure I’d pay $19.99 for the adult buffet.

Outside of Rico’s on the patio area are some games. It was a nice Phoenix morning and not yet hot, so we hung around for a while playing Connect 4 and bean bag toss.

When the kids tired of the games, we moseyed back to the pool for an hour and a half. They enjoyed the water slide and pool, and then we dried off, packed up and loaded the car.

After that it was (sadly) time to hit the road to Sedona!

Area around the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

There isn’t much in the immediate area around the resort. You’re basically in suburbia. There are some business and stores along the same road as the resort, but the rest of the area is just surrounded by houses. To the east are the hills seen in a couple photos.

There really isn’t anywhere to walk around the resort. If you have a car, you can see other sights in the Phoenix area. I wouldn’t suggest trying to visit the resort without a car. Or the Phoenix area, for that matter. The Phoenix metro is the textbook definition of suburban sprawl.

We did find a local Mexican restaurant down the street for dinner the first night.

Conclusion

Our one night at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was enjoyable and a great value. We had a fun-filled afternoon swimming and playing mini-golf before returning to our room for a movie. Having Hilton Gold status and using points for the night helped us bring the cost of our stay to nearly $0 out of pocket.

Eating off-property is easy since you are essentially in suburbia and there are plenty of cheap local options. Honestly, I would suggest it. If you also are a fan of cooking in your hotel room, you can definitely get one that would allow that to work easily as well. You’d just need to bring all the cookware and a hot plate.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort isn’t a glamorous place, but it’s a great value for families looking to stretch both their points or their budget. It’s definitely on my list of places to take the whole family in the future.

Sheraton Roma Review

Overall rating: 8/10

Pros: Cheap points rate, good breakfast, nice lounge, easy access to metro

Cons: Not in city center, tired rooms and exterior

This hotel review is very dated, but its been sitting here mostly drafted and I figured I’d finish up and post it. 

During our extended European holiday in 2016 (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe), my wife and I spent 6 nights at the Sheraton Roma. I had booked us directly into a Club Room, which included breakfast and lounge access.

The total? 31,000 SPG points. Not a bad redemption, especially given that it would have easily cost us $900 out of pocket. Now that the merger is happening between the Starwood and Marriott loyalty programs, stays at the Sheraton Roma are becoming a worse deal. Category 1 and 2 Starwood properties were particularly hard hit by the new award chart.

Previously, award nights cost 3,000/4,000 Starpoints for a standard room (we booked a Club Room for a bit more). The new award chart shows that they will cost 17,500 Marriott points. Even given the 3:1 effective ratio of SPG to Marriott points, we’re looking at an increase of 5,500 Marriott points per night.

Cash rates during our dates were ~$140 per night for a club room, so we were getting about 2.7 cents per point. Not a bad redemption, especially since it was saving us the cost of breakfast (and often dinner).

Arrival at the Sheraton Roma

We didn’t have to travel very far the day we arrived. Our first night in Rome was actually spent at the St. Regis Rome, which mainly left me wishing I would have not burned the points I did on the luxury stay (SEE: St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points).

The easiest way to get to the Sheraton Rome is by metro or bus. If you take the metro, you have to walk a good distance to the hotel. We made this mistake, and the area to the immediate south of the hotel is not especially friendly to pedestrians. The bus is a better option, since the stop is literally out in front of the hotel, but you need to do a bit more research. I had it down by the end of our stay.

The exterior of the hotel is dated and not especially appealing.

We arrived in the evening after spending the day exploring Rome, and were immediately told that we needed to check in at the desk in the lounge. This was new to me. I figured the front desk handled everything. But it was easy enough to head up to the sixth floor.

First impressions

As I mentioned, the exterior needs a major face lift. However, the lobby was nice enough. It was often busy, but not during the afternoon that we arrived.

There was a flight crew present when we arrived, and we would continue to see them throughout our stay. It seems that the Sheraton Roma has contracts with multiple airlines for crew stays. Heading to the elevators, we arrived at the 6th floor, where the Club lounge is located.

Check in was…interesting. The staff in the lounge were incredibly professional, but we were accosted by an overly friendly lady who’d had a few too many glasses of Italian wine. She chatted our ears off for a few minutes before we were thankfully given our keys and could extricate ourselves. Our room was one floor down, on the 5th floor.

Sheraton Roma Club Room

I thought I’d taken photos of our room like I typically do at most hotels, but I guess I missed that detail. I took photos of other areas of the property, but not of the room itself. You can take a look here. I recall our Club Room at the Sheraton Roma as being adequate, but a bit on the small side. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, as we were out enjoying Rome most of our visit. In the evening hours, I was often in the lounge working until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. to keep up with things back home.

One note with Starwood (and probably the same once they are fully rolled into Marriott), is that being upgraded to a Club Room doesn’t necessarily grant Club access. Since we’d paid the necessary points premium for a Club Room outright (as if paying cash for the room), we did get Club access and free breakfast. Besides Club access, there aren’t really any differences between standard Club and non-Club rooms at the Sheraton Roma. You’re just on a different floor.

We did opt for the Make a Green Choice program each day. As the Sheraton Roma is a full service hotel, we could get either a voucher for €5 toward food or beverage, or 500 Starpoints.

I value 500 Starpoints at ~$12, so that was definitely what we picked. Including our second Sheraton stay on this trip, we came away with 4,000 Starpoints from award stays. Pretty sweet.

Sheraton Roma Lounge

Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge was the best perk of booking a club room. It was a great place for me to work from in the evenings while my wife relaxed in our room. Or joined me.

Every evening there was a selection of small bites that doubled as dinner for us. Lunch out in Rome is fairly expensive, so we tried to cut costs by eating dinner in the lounge. Most of the food was pretty good. You just had to go back a few times to have enough.

There was a selection of wine as well, always at least one red and one white. It was all self serve. You might say it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy, when in Rome. But we didn’t. I hardly ever have a glass of anything.

The seating in the lounge was adequate, and there were almost always a number of other people present. The Sheraton Roma appears to be a popular hotel for both business travelers and flight crews.

Breakfast

Since we’d spent the extra points on an upgrade to a Club Room, breakfast was also included, either in the Sheraton Club itself or in AQVI, the hotel restaurant.

We opted for the restaurant every day. The food selection included a wide assortment of pastries, and hot breakfast options such as eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese, fruit and much more.

I unfortunately didn’t take any photos besides the one of my plate, but I do remember feeling more than satisfied with both the quality and selection of food at breakfast. We ate with a view of the pool every day.

Italian coffee is also generally very good. The coffee here was about par.

Lounge access and breakfast every day were worth the 1,500 point premium per night. This is about the same as paying $38 per day for breakfast and dinner for two, which was totally worth saving.

Other facilities

The Sheraton Roma has a large pool deck area and a decent size pool. The only issue was that, at least from the breakfast area, it didn’t look all that inviting. The water was murky and not at all appealing. Neither my wife nor I had more than a mild interest in swimming, so it was easy to pass it up.

We did actually use the business center while at the Sheraton Roma. It was necessary to print the boarding passes for our flight from Ciampino to Dublin on Ryan Air. Failure to print a boarding pass will incur a steep fee from the airline.

Access to Rome

One of the drawbacks to the Sheraton Roma is its distance from the city center. It’s not that access isn’t all that difficult. It just means a 20-60 minute transit time each way, depending on where you want to go.

The most convenient option is the Patinaggio bus stop literally right in front of the hotel. The bus takes a bit longer in terms of drive time, but there is less walking involved. You’ll take the 780 line to Trastevere/Pascarella station and then catch the streetcar to Piazza Venezia. From there you can reach many sights in Rome by foot.

The other option is the metro, which we took most of the time. The EUR Magliana station is a 10-minute walk, but the walking route is less than ideal. Bushes had overgrown some of the sidewalk, and traffic is moving at a pretty good pace. But it is the better option for some of the sights. Colosseo station is only a 15 minute ride on the metro, and trains run frequently. Getting to the other side of Rome, such as over to the Vatican, will take at least another 15-20 minutes.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a great stay at the Sheraton Roma. It definitely wasn’t the nicest hotel, but it met our needs perfectly. Even though it isn’t near the center of the city, accessing the typical tourist areas was easy enough by bus or metro. Lounge access and breakfast were nice touches, and if we stay here again, I’d seek to repeat that.

My one potential gripe is that the pool did not look inviting. But we were here to enjoy the history and culture, not the water. If the kids were along, I’m sure they would have still been up for a swim. 😉

St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points

Location: Rome, Italy

Overall rating: 7/10

Pros: Great location, amazingly ornate room, fun splurge for a night

Cons: Under construction at the time, cost way too many points

This review is dated now, but I wanted to wrap up this draft from our Europe adventures in 2016.

During our thirty days in Europe during 2016, my wife and I visited Rome as our last stop before moving on from Italy. For the five nights prior we had been visiting Florence, a lovely city of art and history (SEE: Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review). Even that wasn’t enough time to scratch the surface of what Florence has to offer. But we had to move on.

For our first night I’d booked the St. Regis Rome. It was very close to the train station and one of the splurges I’d settled on for the trip. Whether it would really live up to my expectations remained to be seen.

I booked a deluxe room since there weren’t any standard rooms available for our one night. The equivalent room was going for over $500 per night, so it was a fairly reasonable use of 21,500 SPG points. Reasonable meaning we got what I consider a par “value” for them, when comparing cash rates versus points rates.

Arrival in Rome

We arrived in Rome from Florence on the Frecciarossa train. Frecciarossa literally means “red arrow”. It was definitely the fastest train I’ve ridden and brought us to Rome in no time at all. First on the agenda was picking up our 72-hour Roma passes (SEE: Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass: which is better?). Afterwards, it was off to the hotel.

Although we probably could have walked to the St. Regis directly from the Termini train station, I decided it would be easier to take the metro one stop to the Repubblica station. The St. Regis Rome was only a short walk from there.

First impressions

I had remembered reading that the St. Regis Rome was under renovation. I don’t know exactly where the normal main entrance is, but is certainly wasn’t where we were checked in. I’m sure things are back to normal by now.

The hotel was very regal, and pretty much what I expected a St. Regis to be. The first thing that pops into my head is royalty. The place was over-the-top ornate. We made our way up a grand staircase to our room. The bellhop brought our luggage, something I don’t allow often.

We were in room 222. It was even named.

Deluxe Room

As I mentioned before, standard rooms were all booked during our dates, so I had to call in and book a deluxe room. The ability to book upgraded room categories for a relatively small points increase was an awesome feature of the SPG program. I’m not sure the combined SPG/Marriott program will offer the same value.

Our deluxe room was quite the sight when we opened the door.

From the wall art, to the draperies, to the furnishings, it amazes me that people design hotel rooms like this. We were really out of our element here.

st. regis rome

Our deluxe room at the St. Regis Rome wasn’t especially large, but it was more than comfortable. I made sure I got photos of it from every angle.

Maybe the Cupola di S. Rocco is in reference to the painting above the bed? That was my only guess. That’s the only dome I can spy.

At the end of the bed was a comfortable love seat and coffee table. It was a nice design of living area combined with bedroom in minimal space.

The desk was as regal as everything else. So much for chair comfort, though. There was no way I could have worked in that for more than 30 minutes without wanting to find something else.

There was a smaller table that appeared to be for the sole purpose of doing your makeup, given the lighting and mirrors.

The interior and closet doors were even decorative.

It was a lovely room, and like a couple other properties on this trip, leagues beyond any hotel I’d ever stayed at prior to this trip.

Bathroom

The bathroom was super nice, but it wasn’t the all-time best. We’d just been in the Park Hyatt Milan several nights before and that is still the winner for best hotel bathroom (and best bath amenities…the shampoo smells amazing).

Like the Park Hyatt Milan, the bathroom featured both a bathtub and a shower. If this is a typical feature of high end hotels, I’m definitely a fan.

The glassed-in shower was plenty large and had both a large overhead shower-head and a small detachable one.

The sink area was fairly large and the mirror gilded, like so many other things in the room.

Then there was the phone next to the toilet again, something I’d first noticed at the Hyatt Regency Palais du la Mediteranee.

If a toilet phone is what it takes to be a “fancy” hotel, I just don’t get it.

St. Regis Rome Butler service?

On of the hallmarks of the St. Regis brand is their renowned butler service. Turns out we needed at least an “Imperial Room” for this to be a part of our stay. It would have cost some more points, and we were already spending plenty as it was. It wasn’t like we needed that sort of service anyway, although it would have been a cool experience. I wonder if he would have brought us groceries?

I suppose he might also expect us to tip him handsomely. At $500+ per night, I’m sure whatever we could have given him would not have been satisfactory. We are peasants who can make do without being waited on.

Signature St. Regis Rome experiences

There are a couple experiences I read about that you can enjoy at the St. Regis Rome. First, there is a daily high tea that you can enjoy. You just better be made of money. Tea costs €28 per person.

In the evening there is a champagne sabering. Before our stay, I had no idea what that this is. Thanks to Google, one can look up these sorts of things if they are lacking in “culture”. At 7:00 p.m. every evening guests can gather in the Caelum Lounge and Bar to watch the opening of a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne. By saber. Yeah. It’s a thing.

I guess there is an art to it. Rather than slash the glass of the beck of the bottle, the blade slides along the seam in the bottle until it impacts the joint with the glass seam at the cork, causing a clean break, a flying cork, and a small jet of foamy champagne as an exciting start to enjoying a glass of bubbly.

If you want breakfast at the hotel, be prepared to pay a pretty penny. It would have been nice to be a Starwood Platinum member when we stayed there, but I didn’t have a way of hacking that status at the time. Breakfast for the non-elite runs €43 per person. Don’t choke on your coffee.

We pretty much enjoyed the hotel for the bulk of our stay. I had requested late  checkout, so we were able to enjoy Rome a bit the next day, but our evening at the St. Regis Rome was pretty much just spent hanging out in our lovely room. After days of walking all around Florence, we needed a break.

Conclusion

Hindsight is always 20/20. This stay in particular taught me how content we are with burning points at midscale hotels. The St. Regis Rome was way out of our league.

It was a fun night at a fancy place, but it didn’t provide us any more value staying here rather than at the Sheraton, except for maybe an hour’s worth of time savings. Honestly, we got way less value. We could have spent four nights at the Sheraton Roma for what we paid for the St. Regis. And breakfast would have been included. That would have been the winner, hands down. Our stay at the St. Regis Rome is a very clear example of Vendoming.

The St. Regis Rome wasn’t a bad hotel, it was just way beyond what we needed. In the future I am going to be far more selective with where we stay. After all, when a Hyatt House is basically your wife’s favorite hotel, there’s no need to go all out. 😉

Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!

After visiting Colossal Cave Mountain Park, we headed to the Pima Air and Space Museum as our second stop on the first day of our road trip across the Southwest (SEE: Southwest Road Trip 2018: An Overview). As an aviation aficionado (and with a son that is already very much into airplanes as well), it was a must-see while we were in Tucson.

General info for the Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the eastern outskirts of Tucson, not far from both the airport and the Air Force base. The museum includes a massive 80 acres of exhibits featuring hundreds of aircraft. It is one of the largest non-government-funded air museums in the world.

Single-day entry prices are as follows:

  • Adult (13+) – $16.50
  • Junior (5-12) – $10.00
  • Senior (65+)/Active Military – $13.75
  • Child (< 4) – Free

There is also a cheaper price for Pima County residents. I’m honestly surprised they don’t offer a fairly inexpensive annual membership. The group rate (20+) is also only $13.50 per person for the day.

While we only were there for one day, the Pima Air and Space Museum also offers 2-day passes. If you’re a serious aviation enthusiast, this might be the best way to go. The 2-day pass is a great deal at $22.00 for adults and $12.50 for kids.

Indoor Exhibits

It is fitting that you are greeted by a reconstruction of a Wright Flyer as the very first exhibit. This brought back memories of our visit to the Museum of Flight near Boeing Field when I was 13 years old, where I got to take a couple turns in a simulator that allowed you to control the Wright Flyer almost exactly how Oroville Wright controlled in on that famous day near Kitty Hawk.

The main indoor hangar is filled with an incredible assortment of all kinds of aircraft, both civilian and military. You could spend most of a day in just this space.

There are also a few short films to watch at various locations and short sound clips. One of my favorite planes in the main hangar was the Martin PBM Mariner.

One of the coolest aircraft on display is a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

pima air and space museum

My aspiring pilot had a blast at the controls of this kit plane. No, he didn’t get off the ground. Can you believe you would assemble this thing yourself? Not sure I’d trust a plane I put together.

We spent the bulk of our time in the main hangar. There is simply that much to see.

Other Hangars

There are a total of three other hangars besides the main one, as well as an additional building that is a memorial of the 390th Bombing Group and houses a B-17 Flying Fortress. This was the first model plane I completed as a kid, and I have always been fascinated with it.

With such an abbreviated schedule, we spent about 10 minutes in the 390th museum (sadly). We didn’t even get a chance to enter the other hangars. I opted for a tour of the grounds instead.

Outdoor Exhibits

There is so much to see in the outdoor exhibits that you could literally spend all day walking around and under every single aircraft on the 80 acres of the museum.

I ended up paying for the tram, as it was a fairly hot Arizona day, and I knew the kids wouldn’t be up for walking much of the outside areas. Plus, it was faster and included a guide, and we didn’t have a lot of time. At $6 per person, the tram adds up quickly for a family. But I would recommend it, especially if you are on a schedule.

One of the perks is that the drivers are retired professionals from the aviation industry. Our tour guide’s name was Ron. He was a retired pilot who had a 27-year career with Northwest Airlines after seven years as a Navy Reserve pilot. His knowledge of aircraft and aviation history was impressive.

The first tram stops were near some U.S. military fighters. My favorite was “Big Sal”, an F-105 flown in the Vietnam War by Capt. John Hoffman and named for his wife, Sally.

One of the next stops was at a Marine Corps Sikorsky S-43.

Across from it on the other side beyond a fence is an Orbis Flying Eye Hospital DC-10. My son thought it was super cool with the engine built into the tail. However, this plane has the affectionate nickname “Death Contraption 10”, among other equally awful monikers, due to several incidents that resulted in loss of life. The most famous is very likely United flight 232. After suffering critical failure in the tail engine, the pilots were left with very little control of the plane. Amazingly, they still managed to nearly land it at Sioux City, Iowa.

One plane that stood out especially was the “Flying Guppy”.

Further along we saw a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Constellation. Our tour guide remarked how sleek and unique the plane’s lines are. The triple tail was a design feature that allowed the aircraft to fit into existing hangars with low ceilings. It’s a beaut.

The Lockheed Constellation (not this one specifically) holds the record for the longest duration, non-stop passenger flight on a piston powered aircraft. Trans World Airlines’ inaugural flight from London to San Francisco was a ridiculous 23 hours and 19 minutes. This wasn’t mentioned during the tour, but it is an amazing feat. The aircraft would have averaged a mere 230 miles per hour.

Soon we had passed enough aircraft that I began to lose track of what we saw. It was information overload. And my phone was dying, to boot.

I took a few more photos while I could, including this U.S. Air Force Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, nicknamed “Old Shaky” due to the aircraft’s tendency to due just that during flight. The large nose cone sported by the plane is a weather radar.

There were also a couple more modern airliners featured at the Pima Air and Space Museum. These included the second Boeing 787 ever manufactured. It is accompanied by a China Southern 737.

Near the end of the tour is what the tour guide called the queen of the lot: a Convair B-36.

Overall, I enjoyed the tram tour immensely. If we had had the time to spend (say, 2 full days), and had visited during the winter, I probably would have opted to walk the facility. But the knowledge of the tour guide plus the fact that we didn’t have to walk over 2 miles up and down through the outdoor section of the museum is definitely worth $6 per person.

After the tram ride, we spent maybe another 15 minutes inside. The kids were soon ready to move on, and we took off for the hotel (SEE: 2 Consistently Good Mid-Range Hotel Brands for Families).

Conclusion

The Pima Air and Space Museum was a great way to begin our trip. I already have a son that is very interested in aircraft and aviation in general, and it was the perfect place to see. Next on the list of aviation destinations is Seattle, where I’d like to take him to the Museum of Flight and on a tour of the Boeing factory. We’ll see when I manage to fit that trip into our schedule.

Should you Visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

After flying on literally the most ahead-of-schedule United flight I’ve ever set foot on (SEE: My Kids Magically Fixed United), the kids and I arrived in Tucson late at night. The next morning included getting a rental car from the airport. I’ll not let you forget the screaming deal I found on a one-way for our adventure driving back to California (SEE: 2 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Trip).

Our first stop on our first day was Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I’d found the attraction in the brief searching I’d done to find out if there was anything else in Tucson worth seeing besides the Air and Space Museum and Saguaro National Park. Since we’d have a full day to spend, I figured we’d split the time between the museum and the cave.

General Info on Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The park is actually located outside Tucson a good half hour. The easiest access is by taking I-10 east until you reach Exit 279. A left turn will send you onto Colossal Cave Road. From there, you can pretty much follow the signs.

A large arch greets you as you enter the park. The road then turns really rough. It made me wonder what sort of shape the place was in and what the quality of the tour would be like.

The parking lot was a bit confusing. We got up to the top, parked, and then I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so we walked the wrong direction. The path to the cave actually takes you down a bit, and I totally missed the sign and entrance since someone had been stopped in front of it when we’d parked.

The path takes you down to the gift shop and the entrance to the cave.

You can pay for a cave tour ahead of time by booking online. Tours are capacity-controlled, and I’m sure they sell out during busier times. There was only one tour sold out for our day at the time I booked, and I got the 11:00 a.m. tour like I’d hoped for. From what I’ve read, though, you might want to book early as the Classic Cave Tours do sell out on popular dates and at popular times.

If you want to chance things, you can buy tickets at the gift shop like we did. The only issue is that you may have to wait for a tour if one has filled up, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in the interim. I’d recommend booking online if you know you’ll be there at a specific time.

Touring Colossal Cave

One of the things that surprised me was how warm the cave was. In Oregon, the cave is typically a chilly 40 degrees. And it is wet. Colossal Cave is exactly the opposite. Although it was a fairly scorching 90 degrees outside (hey…don’t judge this Humboldt boy), the cave is a perfect 70 degrees.

It is also a dry limestone cave, which means the formations aren’t growing anymore. This has been the state of Colossal Cave for at least a few hundred years.

Our tour guide’s name was Savannah. She was engaging and humorous, which makes for a great tour. She had great knowledge of the cave and was able to relay much of the science of limestone caves and the history of Colossal Cave in particular.

When the tour guide mentioned how many stairs we’d be either climbing or descending, my first thought was, wow, that is a ton.” But over the course of the tour I realized that it wasn’t as strenuous as I’d anticipated. You walk a good distance, and the stair sections are fairly well broken up.

The kids were fairly interested during most of the tour. There were instances where they wanted to move on, but others where they really enjoyed what we were looking at. Some of the formations had names, either due to the unique shape of the rock, or the way they would cast shadows when the guide shined her light on them. This was the “witch of the cave”.

My favorite parts were definitely the Crystal Forest and the Drapery Room. The sad part, however, is that because Colossal Cave is a dry cave, the broken stalactites are no longer growing and will not repair themselves.

colossal cave mountain park

All we can do now is limit additional damage to the cave.

There is also a story of bandits that hid gold in Colossal Cave and then died in a shootout soon after. The gold is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and to this day no one has found it. The tour guide played this story up, although she had the gall to insist that we had to share a cut of the gold with her should we find it.

Other tours and activities at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The bulk of people take the normal cave tour. However, the park offers a few other levels of cave exploration for the more adventurous types. There is a ladder tour that costs $35 and is 90 minutes long, taking you to places the Classic Cave Tour doesn’t. You have to be at least 12 years old and physically able to climb ladders and move through narrow spaces.  For comparison, the normal tour is about 50 minutes long and is all concrete path and stairs.

Adventurous types can also take the Wild Cave Tour that last 3.5 hours and costs $85. Groups are limited to 6 people and require a minimum of 2. Young adults of 16 or 17 can take the tour, but they must be accompanied by an adult. You should be physically fit and need to bring gloves (which you can also purchase there).

Besides the other tours, there is a gift shop, a small “cafe” (it’s basically a food stand). We considered eating here but ended up opting for a Mexican restaurant about 15 minutes away.

There is also a super short nature trail. If this is your one chance to be up-close-and-personal with some saguaro, I’d take it. Otherwise, I’d pass. There is a lot more to see and enjoy in Saguaro National Park itself.

Conclusion

My takeaway is that if you have access to other, larger and more interesting caves, you might want to pass up Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The tour was interesting, but not quite as long or engaging as the tours I’ve taken at the Oregon Caves. And nothing has beaten my visit to Carlsbad Caverns in terms of size.

But…Colossal Cave Mountain Park does have some things going for it, including the perfect temperature, and the fact that it is a dry cave, which is a bit more rare. It is also within an easy drive of Tucson, so it could be a great place to spend a half a day if you are already in the area.

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